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Five Ceilings and a Damp Course

Five Ceilings and a Damp Course
• Sam North
This is the unromantic story of a downsizer who bought a house which promptly fell on his head.

It does not star Hugh Grant and any Notting Hill lovely as it is set in the tropical paradise of N. E. Lincolnshire and there were no habitable rooms for any of the cast to stay in for the last three months.

The logic was simple of course. Buy a classic 1930’s semi with a sunny south facing garden and off-street parking. Put the money I’d save to one side for travel and enjoying retirement.  It was smaller than I wanted, but I figured I’d knock down a couple of walls down and the dining room and kitchen would all be about modern living. Add a new bathroom and log burner and I’m set.

The bathroom people came in during the Christmas break.  The budget changed daily, and they had to bring in a gold-plated plasterer for some reason and when I got back to the house, they had only tiled half way up, but charged for the whole way.  Two weeks later the tiles fell off the wall.  Their guarantee was worthless, and they wouldn’t even come back to look at their shoddy work.  Somehow, they broke the drain outside whilst replacing the waste pipe.  All in all, two grand became four and I had to buy all the stuff on top.  I look at the shower and wonder if it really is worth £5000!

Of course once I’d moved in there was the matter of seven layers of wallpaper on the walls and even the ceilings had two layers of paper – and there started the real  problem.  I thought I’d investigate a little hole in the corner of the master bedroom. One tug and the whole ceiling fell on my head.  Plaster is about one inch thick and makes quite a dent on your skull.  I looked up through the dust and saw lath and holes through to the supposedly insulated roof. Next stop hospital to get patched up.

That was day one.  Eventually every ceiling had to come down, including the landing and hall and the smell of dust was appalling.  Finding a plasterer wasn’t easy, but after a month one was secured and three months on only just now completed.  Meanwhile I’d discovered that my fingers easily pushed through the skirting boards downstairs and once removed, the rot was pretty impressive.  The floors obviously had to come up and any lingering respect I had for builders in the 1930’s disappeared as joists met the walls and the damp was transferred into all the woodwork.  Add that the fireplaces were built on actual mud, which went all the way down to the foundations (such as they were), and you can see that putting timber against mud was bound to lead to damp issues.  Quite how the old lady who lived here before me for fifty years hadn’t noticed the smell of rotting timber or the tilting floor is amazing, quite how the SURVEYOR missed all this is astonishing!  There was a damp guarantee with the paperwork but when I called the company they wanted to be paid upfront to investigate their obviously rubbish workmanship and I decided a local company might be better.

So then it came to my grand plans for combining the kitchen and dining room by removing walls.  (I hadn’t noticed the kitchen had no heating when I bought the place).  The builder sucked on his teeth (never a good sign).  ‘You can remove this dividing wall, but you can’t remove the end one because it’s holding up the house and judging from all the cracks in the walls, you really don’t want to be removing any of the walls at all.’

And the cracks are spectacular.  My pal Dave came around and investigated one above a window and you could see straight through to the outside.  ‘You need to fill that’, he said.
No shit Sherlock.
Never has so much Polyfilla filled so many walls and this is just a temporary fix.  ‘The cracks will return, don’t you worry’, says Dave.

The damp people came in and much to my surprise said, ‘We don’t do below the floors’.
We gee thanks.  Seems that was up to me and my pal Dave.  Dave mostly, as I just handed the tools to him as he ripped up my floors.  The damp people cut a hole the full length of the room and then plastered over it.  ‘100% your damp won’t return above this’, they said, but of course the damp is BELOW this.  Craziness.

You might think that all this is pretty straightforward stuff and should be expected in an old money pit.  And perhaps it is, but I hadn’t budgeted for ANY of it.   Five ceilings and bathroom plastering swallowed the emergency fund. Damp treatment doubled it.  Any thoughts of a decorator went out the window.  I had no choice I had to fill in the cracks and paint it all myself.  I did hire a handyman to help strip wallpaper and line the walls. His expertise and sunny nature helped put things into proportion. But any hope of having any money left over for ‘vacations’ was long gone. The kitchen still needs to be done and it seems the earliest that can happen is June.  If you think the economy is in trouble, you’d be wrong, judging by kitchen installation waiting times.  I just hope the MDF doesn’t come from Europe.

The final kicker was discovering the government wants to ban log burners – just a day after I had one installed.  Added to which I drive a diesel car which is banned from London from April 1st and things are not looking up at all. *Plus the darn backdoor got attacked by would be thieves two nights ago. Seems I need a new door and anti-snap locks.

Lessons learned?
There are no bargains.
Never downsize
Surveyors know absolutely nothing. Get a builder in who sucks his teeth a lot.
Make a plan to do as much of the work yourself as you can.
Triple your estimates 
© Sam North (Editor) March 2019
author of Magenta
Life begins somewhere between the fish and the stars 

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